The Red Pen’s Revenge

The excitement builds. The whisky is poured. Draft two is complete. It is a relief. The first run, you see, doesn’t feel real, it doesn’t feel like the end product. It’s almost as if the first copy is a grainy image of what is to come. It can be lax. It can be unstructured. Things don’t necessarily need to follow or make sense. Great slabs of story are missing. Other flabby bits are hanging off the sides, waiting to be cut out.

What a mess! What a disaster! How can we clean this thing up and get it into something readable? Well that’s where the second draft comes in. Still on the machine, I read through it all, start to finish, and cut out what needs to be cut out and put in what needs to be put in. I correct obvious errors or grammar and spelling and correctness. I think whether the timing makes sense, the locations, the people and the settings.

Is that what this character would do? Is that really the best way to describe that? Bit by bit I massage the story out from its amorphous shape and, with a pinch here and a cut there, it becomes a story with a purpose. Great. That’s the point I’m at now. That’s the moment of ‘woot’ where I can take a breather and fix up the garage or fly a kite with Joey.

That’s not the end of it, though. For now comes the nasty part – the Red Pen.

The Red Pen is ruthless. The Red Pen cares not for fancy constructs, nor for passive tense. The Red Pen spots that naughty comma and herds it into the right spot. It scrawls its thoughts down in haste, it draws arrows and brackets and, when it gets really steamed, it draws thick lines through words, sentences, even whole paragraphs!

That’s what happens when you leave a Red Pen in a cup for half a year. It gives it time to plot and scheme. I only hope there’s something left after it has had its fill.

Stumpy Makes a Return

I took some time off work yesterday and today. I had some things around the house that needed doing. The fireplace, for one, needed painting. The original coating was faded and buffed and rust spots were appearing. Some sandpaper, mineral turpentine, a paint brush and a tin of pot-belly black high temp paint solved that problem.

Now the house smells like turps, but that’s not the point. The point is that I knuckled down, got the job done, the fireplace looks a treat and I’m ready for winter.

I also needed to replace a strip of quad in the bathroom because it got left out during the renovations. Some stain, some gloss, cut it to size, stuck it on the wall, job done. And the lawn needed mowing – got that out of the way. Oh, the doorbell dinger needed to be replaced – done. The winder in the bedroom is failing – turns out I can’t fix that without replacing the box, so I’ll have to leave that to another day (and someone else).

So where does that leave me? It leaves me with some time to actually do what I want to do, which is finish off the sequel to Tedrick Gritswell. That’s right, folks, our favourite little spud from Borobo Reef is back in business and he’ll soon be peeking out from a bookshelf near you!

The Second Draft is complete. I’ve put my poor little printer through its paces (took a while to get the drivers and get it working) and it dutifully churned out 100 odd pages of words for me to read through and correct. Now I’ve got to go get another red pen. I kind of killed my last one. Time for a trip to Officeworks. After that, more editing and corrections and then onto the final.

In the meantime, I’m having a break. I’ve got to get onto the front cover, after all. I had decided this time around to do the cover first, but that idea got lost along with everything else that came at me this year, but don’t you worry, I’ll get out the tablet, crack open my Corel Draw and reacquaint myself with just how to apply a virtual paint to a virtual canvas.

Portsmouth Avenue – Third Draft complete

You know when your eyes are burning and your fingers and cramped and up come up for a gulp of air and realise, ‘Heck, almost there!’

That’s me.

The fifth episode of Paranormology is only a hop, skip and a jump away from getting published. Allow me a couple of seconds to enjoy the moment.

That’s enough.

Back to it. I’ve highlighted the issues and suggested corrections, now I’ve got to pick up the pieces of paper – literally – and update the electronic copy.

Why ‘literally’? Well, funny story:

As you can see from the pic, there’s a whopping bulldog clip what holds all my sheets together. This system works really well because it keeps the pages in order when I take it from my bag, or put it on the table, or drop it on the ground. Where the system fails is when I unclip it, then let the pages slide off the desk and across the floor.

Let this be a lesson – when you print out your manuscript, add page numbering. It’s fast and it means that, if the pages get screwed up because of one’s clumsiness, it’s trivial to put them back into order.

As it was, I spent a good ten minutes flicking through, sorting and shuffling and rearranging.

Yellow?

You’ll also notice that I used a yellow highlighter rather than my favourite red pen. Reason is that I couldn’t find Old Red anywhere. The highlighter + black pen combination isn’t that great, in that I need to do two marks rather than one, and the black pen had a tendency to get smeared on the marker.

The end result is good. I can scan a page quickly and spot what needs to be updated, so that’s not a problem, and if I can’t have a red pen, I’ll settle for this, albeit grudgingly.

What comes next?

Updating the electronic copy with the corrections. It’s laborious, it’s boring, but it has to be done. A few cups of coffee should help.

After this, or during – if I need a break from words – comes the cover. I’ve got the sky how I want it, and I’ve removed a few ‘modern’ artefacts from the house and surrounds. Now I need to get the colours right, perhaps add a some environmental cues, and decide upon a font for the title.

And then, somewhere along the way, I have to start a blurb – *shudder*. For such a small patch of writing it is the most agonising to write: Summarise without being vague. Give clues without giving anything away. Create interest without using cliches. And do it all in a neat and tidy space of five sentences. Blegh.

So I might be near the end, but, really, there is much still to be done.

Editing – Ugh… Do I have to?

Who ever said that writing was glamorous? Not me, I can assure you. I can think of many words to describe it. Glamorous doesn’t make the list.

The writing bit is fun. You know, making up the story and getting all the words on the paper and building up characters, scenes and plots. That’s a hoot, but not glamorous. It’s fun, sticky and sugary, like eating dessert for an entree.

The marketing – promotions, adverts and posts – that’s all boring but essential, like steamed vegetables.

The worst part, for me at least, is editing. I’ve already read the damn book. I’ve worked over little details, scrubbed whole bits out, rammed other bits in, smooshed it, smoothed it, worked at it and sat on it. Then, after a period of recovery, I get to do it all over again.

And that’s just the second draft.

Rinse, repeat. Third draft. Oh brother. Looking down at the plate, you’ve got something in the realm of cold porridge, mixed with a spoonful of unsoaked lentils.

Ugh. Editing. Spoon by spoon, it’s a slog to get through, especially the third draft. It’s where I have to concentrate not only on grammar and spelling, but flow, repetition and any major flaws that are sitting there. Did Barnes come before or after I fought the Unome? Was Belvedere oblivious to Sassam’s plot? How much did Wyra blab to Coraline?

Yes, these should have been taken up in the Second Draft. Doesn’t mean they were. Consider it the last chance to nut all of that out before the galley is produced. I’ve had some assistance to this end in the form of my father grabbing a red pen and for this I am very, very grateful.

Of course, since he stole the red pen, I’ve been forced to use the green for my own amendments. I can live with that. Want to hear the good news? It’s all done. The hard-copy side of things, that is. Now comes the second part of the editing task: working back over the printed pages and translating the scribbles and scrawls, side-annotations and asterisks over to the electronic version.

This the is down-hill part of the task. Doesn’t mean it’s any less unpalatable, just that it takes less time.

What’s the date today? May 1st. Cool. In that case, I have reached the decision to put this book up for pre-release May 4th on Amazon’s KDP (the Kindle Direct Publishing thing), for an official release June 1st. That’s from a Thursday to a Thursday.

I’ll try my best to document the process. I’ve got Smashwords and Lulu down, but the KDP is still a bit of a foreign concept.Mini Jeztyr Logo

It’s that time again…

‘Jolimont Street Ghost’ second draft is done. Still a few things to tidy up. Still some paragraphs that need work. But now it’s time to break out the red pen.

Yeppers, it’s head down, bum up, editing hat on with some white noise flooding my ears, reading over the printed pages of the next great thing, cup of coffee dripping onto the pulp, marking little annotations with my red pen in cryptic squiggles and hieroglyphs.

There’s more to consider than just the story, though. Now that I’m at the pointy end, I need to update the Paranormology series image, figure out an actual release date rather than ‘sometime around March-ish’ – ah, a deadline.

What else?

And, you know what? I’ve been doing some thinking. This episode is in stark contrast to Grosvenor Lane, which is light-hearted and childlike. As I was doing the second draft, I realised the protagonist has grown a lot. His thoughts and attitudes are more adult and the situation he finds himself in is less Enid Blyton and more Howard Lovecraft, and this transition is palpable across the other two books.

It wouldn’t be fair to judge the series based on a single book now, would it?

So, as an extra kicker, Jolimont Street Ghost will be free.

As such, there’s no pre-release period, so I’m going to have to factor that into my release date as well.

Aw, man. More work.Mini Jeztyr Logo

About that Red Pen…

It’s a very nice red pen, isn’t it? The ink is smooth, the grip is light but firm. The colour is vibrant. How are you using it? Are you liberally applying ink to the page or are you more reserved when gracing the paper with your nib? Do you write whole sentences, or underline a word, or make a bunch of arrows surrounded by exclamation marks and stars?

That all depends on you, of course, and also to what sweep you’re on and what system you’ve got in place.

There’s a System?

Yes, otherwise your scrawls are just that. What’s the point of sweeping through your book if you can’t understand your own editing when it comes time to sitting back down in front of the screen again?

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A sample editing page

I’ve made my own little system for the various sweeps. Take the Language sweep, for instance. The featured image shows how I’ve gotten rid of words that did not need to be there – just cross them out.

This doesn’t mean that I must get rid of the word or sentence, only that, under the cold light of editing, I felt that it didn’t belong. I make the mark and move on. I’ll fix it later. LATER. As in, when I’m done editing and I’m sitting once more in front of the monitor.

I’ve made suggestions with a scribble of a possible alternative. It’s not a full alternative, and there were many others that came to mind, but it is enough that when I look over it again, I can think, “Ah, yeah, that’s what I was getting at.” Once again, I mark it so that I can look at it more closely later.

Misspelled words, suspect words, erroneously placed words – treat them all the same. Circle, squiggle, underline, cross out, surround them in parentheses, whatever. Just bring it to your attention to look at later.

So long as you can understand your marks and squiggles, you’re golden. If you’re doing this for someone else (can I borrow you?) or they’re doing it for you (can I borrow them?), you’ll need to settle on a system.

Keep Sweeping

When you’re in the editing ‘zone’, it’s damn easy to get interrupted. And distracted. And sidetracked. After all, you’re reading not for pleasure, nor for relaxation, and, let’s face it, there’s not going to be a twist halfway through.

Remember how the pages were to be bulldog clipped? Remember how I said (only about a bazillion times) to get a decent red pen? No interruptions, you can do this… Damn! Yup. There’s no hiding.

You’re going to get a tap on your shoulder regarding that important report, or a ring on the telephone from your friend who wants you to help them move their fridge, or a knock at the door by some pushy electricity salesman who won’t take no for an answer, or a little boy crying for a hug because fell down the steps (because he was wearing his Daddy’s boots and they were too big for him).

Then you sit back down and… you’ve lost where you were. You’re out of the zone. Did I correct that bit? Perhaps? Um. I think I read that bit there. Maybe.

To prevent this, go back to that trusty Red Pen of yours. Every time you complete a slab or text, make a little wedge mark under that line. There, the document has been swept up to that point. Boom! Interruption. Fine, whatever, crisis averted. Where was I? Look for the last wedge.

A word of caution here: Use a separate marker, like an ^ or a * to indicate a point of interruption. That is to say, “The last wedge is there, and I was interrupted somewhere around ^ here”.

Why? Because interruptions in the real world aren’t like software interrupts. They generally have a lead up time, that period of time where your brain is torn between doing its duty and tending to the emerging crisis. Yes, I know there’s a ruckus outside and yes, I know there is most likely going to be a football thrown through the window in a second, but if I persist I can get through this last sentence – Stop. Put the ^ marker there.

It’s a big red flag for “You may have read this, but you weren’t really concentrating. Read it again when you’ve fixed whatever needs fixing.”

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Little Boy gets hold of the Red Pen

Another word of warning: All the editing in the world won’t make a lot of difference if you leave your manuscript and glorious Red Pen lying around where little fingers can get at it.

Sigh. In this instance, it’s best to salvage what you can by printing out a clean copy of that page, and separating your annotations from the spider web.

And keep your Red Pen in a high place.Mini Jeztyr Logo

Watch your Language!

The first sweep (or sweeps) have landed your book in a nice spot: It makes sense, it says what you want it to say, and it starts and ends properly. You’ve checked the continuity and all of that in the previous sweep, and you’ve made the appropriate corrections by moving slabs of text about or getting rid of them altogether.

Now take a break, not too long, maybe a day or two, then print out the manuscript again. Go on, print it out. You’re about to start the second phase. It’s gritty. It takes brain power. It takes numerous cups of coffee to get through it.

The finer points

The second sweep in my set is the Language sweep. This is where I check thing like the rhythm, paragraphs, vocabulary, vernacular, emotion and overall flow. Consider these the fittings and furnishings of your house, the stuff that goes inside each room to make it a particular room.

You can spot a kitchen because it has an oven. A bedroom has a bed. A bathroom has a bath. One doesn’t expect to find a rocking chair in the shower, carpet in the kitchen. Likewise, one doesn’t expect to find a long, descriptive, adjective and adverb filled sentence while two guys are fighting. Nor does one expect every character to have the same intonation, vocabulary and vernacular.

When reviewing each character talking, I have them ‘speak’ inside my head. This way I can hear if my naive-yet-advanced-in-age child sounds like a naive-yet-advanced-in-age child, or that my arrogant-sumbitch-gunslinger’s vocabulary is that of an arrogant-sumbitch-gunslinger.

Speaking of dialog, I find that long running conversations need a little prompt to remind the ready who is saying what. The prompt could be with a tic that that a character has, or their speech, or even a quick “, said John. This is especially true when the dialog is between three or more characters. That said, I also like to make sure I’m not mollycoddling the audience with indicators in every line: I like to give them a bit of credit, and too many ‘he said, she saids’ can break the flow.

Sometimes its what the character doesn’t say, or shouldn’t say, that rings alarms. Tough guys don’t say sorry, unless it’s sarcastic. Sometimes they don’t say anything at all. Passionate lovers don’t tell their partner how they feel, they show them. Children can’t always articulate the finer abstractions of the emotions that they’re feeling – sad, happy, angry, or sick are all fine words for a kid to say.

Don’t lose the flow

Keep the reading going. If you find that you have to go back and re-read a sentence or a paragraph, then something’s not right. OK, you might well be tired from all the editing, and this is a good indicator that it’s time to stop, stretch, get a coffee, feed the cat, whatever.

If you come back to the sentence again and it still makes you do a double-take, consider revising it into smaller parts, swapping the bits around or even ripping it out altogether.

Complicated sentences may be the order of the day, especially if your novel is slow paced, descriptive or abstract. If your sentences become overly complicated, that’s no good. Lovecraft does have a tendency to waffle on, that doesn’t mean you should follow suit. If you end a sentence having forgotten what the start of it was about, you lose the flow, you break the illusion, you annoy the audience.

On that note, while you’re examining sentences, be sure that your paragraphs are holding their own meeting. For a good while I was reluctant to add a hard-return after a single sentence because a teacher in high school once explained that ‘a single sentence does not a paragraph make.’

In my humble opinion, and with all due respect to my former teacher, that’s tosh.

If sentence Paragraph A pertains to the description of a dog, B pertains to how it was demolishing freshly washed clothes and C to Aunty Betty running out the back door to whack┬áit with her rolling pin, why should I bundle B into A or C? It doesn’t belong, and, what’s more, the second paragraph is very important in its own right.

Keeping the reading flowing can also come down to getting rid of annoying tics, cliches, repetition and beats. Because you’re still sweeping this at a higher level than at the coal-face, but not too high so you can’t see the details, funny little quirks like always starting a sentence with The, or putting ‘softening’ adjectives or adverbs in for no reason (He had a little rest, she stole a quick breath, it devoured a bit), or using the word ‘harangued’ too many times in consecutive sentences.

Once you’ve swept through, marked all your scribbles down on your printed paper with your (now very tired) red pen, it’s time to put those corrections in and, you guessed it, print out the next draft!Mini Jeztyr Logo

From the Top… Down

Sweeping through my draft on the first run, I want to make sure that my story says and does what I want it to say and do. If it’s a comedy, it has to be funny. If it’s adventure, the scenery, characters and places must be vivid. If it’s philosophical, the message should be presented in a manner that allows thought and reflection.

I began developing this ‘sweeping’ process after my first book, where I was editing sitting in front of the computer, trying to get it all done in one go. Save time and effort and all of that. Now, knowing what I know now, I wish I had done it all in sweeps instead. I tried to fell a forest with a pocketknife, then wondered why it was so hard and took so bloody long.

Now I see it as a progression: From the lumberjack and sawmill, through the planer and woodstore, then to the whittler and his knife. Apply the appropriate methodology at each stage, and all of a sudden it ain’t so bad.

My current set of sweeps is broken into three parts: Story, Language and Correctness.

Story

What do I mean by Story? I mean sensibility, continuity, characters, premise and enjoyability – the overall book from start to finish ignoring the finer details. Does it have a beginning? Does it have an end? Does it do what it’s supposed to do?

Does the story make sense? Your audience makes a commitment to reading your book: They promise to read it and enjoy it if, and only if, you meet them half way. Underwriting fiction is the whole concept of suspension of disbelief. The audience will let things slide, and for the most part forgive bad grammar and structure and just about everything else, if you don’t take the piss:

“Shmuck Dodgers, on the verge of defeat with no possibility escape, took from his boot the Atomic Disencrackenator that he had forgotten about until just now and with a push of the button zapped the bad guy into oblivion.”

“Jason, I know you cheated on me with my best friend, burnt my house down, tried to kill me, but I love you anyway!”

“Faced between saving her family or losing her million dollar career, Gillian called upon the spirits of her ancestors to create a doppelganger robot for her that would stand in her place at work while she sorted things out at home.”

Of course, fiction is fiction, it’s not supposed to be ‘real’ in the perfect sense. Cool. But there’s a limit. You can tell when an author is squeezing for an out. Case in point: A Princess of Mars. Toward the end, with a couple of pages to go, you get to thinking “How is he going to wrap this up? There’s nowhere else for this to go, unless…”

Boom, there’s a throwback to a random bit in the middle that smells suspiciously like Edgar had to work it back in to give himself an out at the end. The rest of the story was alright, but the sense of ‘oh, crud, I’ve got to end this…’ comes right through and ruins the romp.

If the story doesn’t make sense, the audience will be annoyed and they won’t come back. Even if your book is supposed to be quirky, there is a limit to what is quirky, and what is just nonsense.

Be your Audience

In the first sweep, make sure you look at the manuscript with fresh, critical eyes. To help with that, leave the book alone for a fortnight. Forget about it. Calm your nerves, be disciplined and go onto something else (hey, isn’t it time you designed your front cover, anyway?).

You’ll be surprised how strange your book looks when you’re disengaged. More than once I’ve caught myself thinking, “Heck, I wrote this?” as I flick through.

This was almost the case with Hampton Court Ghost, only I realised how putrid it was before I called it a draft. After I (heavily) altered the story, I did my sweeps just as I normally would – no shortcuts.

Because you’re looking down from such a high level (remember, you’re not doing grammar or punctuation or language just yet) you can also spot that if “Justin crawled out of bed and faced the morning traffic”, to have “Justin watched the shadows lengthen” doesn’t follow. The audience’s mental scene had a dawn going on, and then we’re asking them to make it evening all of a sudden.

Another example might be “Jo has curly blonde hair”. Later on we find her “Pushing her dark hair behind her ears…” and unless she coloured her hair somewhere through, the mental model of a character inside the audience’s head will flag up because it just doesn’t match.

And you’ve broken the flow, broken the illusion, broken the contract.

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First sweep: hack away

All of this means that you are watching out to make sure things happen in the right order, that there isn’t too much labouring on scenery or dialog, that characters are built, secrets are revealed, etc.

By the end of your first sweep, you should have big slabs of material move around, points to elaborate on, whole sentences and paragraphs to rip out. And don’t be afraid to rip stuff out. If something doesn’t work, or it smells funny, or it looks disjointed, it probably doesn’t belong.

How? Draw a big red line through it and look it over once you’ve finished. You’re more inclined to get rid of a stupid sentence if there’s a ruddy line running through the middle of it – yet another reason to use pen and paper.

Next I’ll be getting onto Language.